Ann-Kirstine "Stina" Rogal, a larger-than-life personality whose dance lessons at Charlie's bar kept Chicago's LGBT community two-stepping for 15 years, died April 3 after a battle with esophageal cancer. She was 55.
Rogal was a fixture at Charlie's and in Chicago's larger LGBT community through her years of involvement with community events. But most associate her with her Monday night dance lessons and her ability to coax even the most hesitant people onto the dance floor.
"It didn't matter who you were or what your orientation was, you could learn to dance," Jim Edminster, a dancer himself, remembered.
Rogal was born Oct. 23, 1956, in Chicago and grew up in Winnetka, Ill. She attended New Trier High School.
She took an early interest in figure skating from a young age and, at age 19, began coaching in the sport, training national and international athletes. She won a U.S. figure skating gold medal herself for ice dancing.
Rogal trained several athletes who competed in the 2006 Gay Games in Chicago and also co-directed the figure-skating competition.
In the LGBT community, Rogal also made a name for herself as a dance instructor, both in Chicago and beyond. She was a member of the Illinois Gay Rodeo Association and was chosen twice to serve as a grand marshal for the Windy City Rodeo. She helped gather the group of men that would become the Windy City Cowboys. She taught at The Sundance Stompede, an annual gay and lesbian country event in San Francisco.
Still, her most profound impact may have been on the dance floor at Charlie's, where she taught thousands of Charlie's patrons that anyone could dance.
"No one was ever allowed to make fun of a bad dancer," said Edminster.
She was professional and gracious but she had a strong sense of humor and deep insight into people, said friends.
It was that deep insight that led her to Kyle Burke, her longtime friend who recently took over her Monday night lessons.
Burke moved to Chicago from Wyoming 11 years ago and struggled to make friends until he stumbled upon Charlie's one night and met Rogal.
"It was the first time someone had engaged me in a conversation," Burke said. "I was ready to move. I didn't think I could make it in the big city."
Rogal seemed to have a similar impact on hundreds of men who, often shyly, found themselves on the dance floor at Rogal's urging.
"She would get them to dance and engaged them in this community and keep them coming back," said Burke.
Rogal lectured that people of all genders and heights could lead and follow in dance, stating that it was "OK to be bi-dansual."
Such mantras became so familiar to Charlie's regulars that most could recite them on command, including her "quick, quick, slow, slow" count. But Rogal's quick wit also kept them on their toes.
According to Burke, it is not widely known how Rogal identified her sexual orientation. Edminster said she occasionally described herself as bisexual.
Last April, Rogal was diagnosed with esophageal cancer. She chose quality of life over quantity, Burke said. She gave dance lessons until she was unable to in recent months, and continued to remain upbeat until her passing.
She planned the details of her death arrangements down to the specific cake, said Burke with a chuckle, adding that she even gave him money to purchase the cake. The only task she had yet to complete was compiling the necessary information for her obituary in Windy City Times. She told friends she "wasn't dying this week" and would get to it soon.
Rogal passed away in hospice care in Skokie. She is survived by her mother, Ketty nee Nielsen, and her brother, Arthur Rogal. Her late father was Chester Rogal.
Friends will be hosting a celebration of her life on Monday, April 16, at Charlie's Chicago, 3726 N. Broadway, at 7:30 p.m.